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Shawn Vestal: Gun rights advocates take risk by objecting to bill

They’ve got your number, gun grabbers.

The gun lobby has again helped undermine a piece of common-sense public safety legislation. The proposal, Washington House Bill 1857, would have allowed judges to issue temporary “extreme risk” protective orders against people deemed dangerous to themselves and others, including requiring them to temporarily surrender their guns.

The legislation was an attempt to put a tool in place for families and police when someone is exhibiting a variety of warning signs: worsening mental health, a pattern of threats of violence or suicide, drug or alcohol abuse, a domestic violence conviction and other factors. In case after case of high-profile shooters, there is a preceding pattern of problems known to family, friends and law enforcement – but short of a criminal conviction or an involuntary mental health commitment, their gun access is protected.

The bill died, with too little support to make it out of committee for a full vote. Guess how the National Rifle Association’s Brian Judy – and several other gun rights organizations – mounted their case against it? By raising the fears that the gun grabbers are coming to get your guns.

“We’ve been hearing for two years from the proponents of Initiative 594 that they don’t want to take away guns,” Judy testified before lawmakers. “However, we have this bill now before us that creates a new process with one goal: to take away guns.”

Dana Day of the American Rights Movement similarly saw through the smokescreen.

“So what is HB 1857 really about?” she asked. “It is abundantly clear that the true purpose of HB 1857 is to remove guns and attack gun rights. What HB 1857 intends to do is criminalize gun ownership by coupling it with other events.”

They also invoked this old chestnut: There’s simply nothing we can do about gun violence. Nothing at all, ever, in any circumstance – except, you know, good guys with guns.

“There’s no magic shield that’s going to protect anyone,” Adina Hicks of Protect Our Gun Rights Washington testified.

Short of a magic shield, why do anything? Armed, mentally ill people will be relieved to know that the gun lobby has protected them. Everyone else’s safety is not the NRA’s concern.

Rep. Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, introduced the bill as a way for law enforcement and families to intervene in cases where someone is displaying extreme reasons for concern that they’re a threat to themselves or others. A petitioner could ask a judge for a protective order, and the judge could grant the order on an emergency basis pending a full hearing, if the judge finds there is a “substantial reason” to believe the subject is a danger to himself or others, and if less restrictive methods have been tried or are deemed insufficient. Under the order, the subject would surrender their guns, or have them seized by police; violating this provision would be a misdemeanor.

Among those testifying in favor of the bill was Cheryl Stumbo, who was one of five people shot at the Seattle Jewish Federation in 2006.

“My shooter’s parents were aware of his mental illness and had watched, deeply worried, as his mental condition deteriorated in the weeks prior to the shooting,” she said. “They testified in court to their concern. … My story in not unique. In Tucson, Aurora, the Navy Yard, Santa Barbara, parents or other family members saw warning signs and tried to do something, but found themselves without any real tools to try to prevent a tragedy before it happened.”

Critics imagined a nightmare scenario. Bitter ex-wives lobbing false accusations, police storming into homes and removing guns. At that hearing, Jinkins said she recognized that some people had concerns about due process and she asked critics to provide amendments and ideas for helping to improve the evidentiary requirements, the rights of appeal and representation, and other issues they raised.

“I remain very open and willing to work with people, with those folks who are sharing the struggle of what is the right balance,” she said.

Did the gun lobby respond with specific ways to address their criticisms?

“No,” Jinkins said. “This was very hard because I met with the NRA and with the gun lobby a couple of times, telling them I wanted to work with them … but what became clear was that the gun lobby had decided they wanted to kill the bill.”

“I just couldn’t win,” she said. “I kept trying to address any concern they raised.”

This is SOP for the gun lobby. Jinkins makes an interesting point: This very truculence, this very refusal to do anything but object and resist to legislation, helped to produce I-594, which passed with 59 percent support. Critics of I-594 talk relentlessly about how poorly drafted it is, how it is too broad, too blunt. The thing is, similar legislative proposals were made in Olympia, and instead of working to help amend and improve them, the gun lobby went full no.

The public went full yes.

“When they fail to work with legislators on policy in the Legislature, what they end up with is very blunt instruments that the public will vote for,” Jinkins said. “The people who object to that, my message is they should have worked for a bill here in the Legislature that many of us were very, very willing to work on.”

Shawn Vestal can be reached at (509) 459-5431 or shawnv@spokesman.com. Follow him on Twitter at @vestal13.